It is simple, complicated, crazy, beautiful, and stupid enough.
I like dark comedies. Not too dark, but dark enough to not be extremely obvious attempts at humor. I do love a good stupid comedy like Dumb and Dumber or Wedding Crashers, but I gravitate to the slightly darker comedies.
Season one of Ted Lasso was far from dark comedy, but I bought into the optimistic, midwest nature of Ted juxtaposed with his many British counterparts. This season started very similarly: super positive, everything will be alright even if they shouldn’t be, and I wondered whether I would abandon the show soon. Why is this guy so happy all the time? Why does a coach say that winning isn’t that important? How can a coach like that really be successful in the long run? While I tend to believe in process over product, I enjoy the competitive side of sports and want to score more points than the other team in any game I play (except golf of course).
Friends and family even mentioned how they weren’t enjoying this season as much as the last, so I’ve only slowly worked through the last half. I’m back in again. The darker it got, the more interested I became. Ted’s trauma becoming integral to this season not only made it more interesting, but also more believable. Life, and all of our emotions in it, are complicated. Nothing is as simple as happy, sad, or scared. Each emotion is a combination of elements. We are happy in relation to recent sadness and vice versa. Our love is felt in unexpected and unusual moments.
I happened to be listening to a podcast this morning doing the dishes, when one episode ended and another began. I wasn’t terribly interested, and even stopped it after I finished the dishes, but I heard something that helps me recognize why I like this show so much. The podcast episode is essentially a reading of a New York Times story about visual and performance artist Laurie Anderson by Sam Anderson. It highlights the prolific nature of this creator. Laurie Anderson shared a series of question she uses to gauge the quality of her work:
‘Is it complicated enough? Is it simple enough? Is it crazy enough? Is it beautiful enough? And finally, Is it stupid enough?’– Laurie Anderson
I think Ted Lasso is just complicated, simple, crazy, beautiful, and stupid enough for me. I also think this could be a useful criteria to gauge the quality of my own work going forward.
Would we all be better if people just listened to each other more?
Yes, the answer is yes. I guess this next part is just an explanation of why I thought this while watching episode 10.
In episode 10 (spoiler alert), the team owner, Rebecca’s father dies and Ted has a panic attack related to his own father’s death. The team psychologist comes to his aid and listens to Ted share his origin story, while, at the same time, Rebecca’s mother listens to her explain the reasons she hated her father. Both characters share stories they had never told before.
In Teds sharing, he wishes he had told father that he was a good dad, implicitly hoping it could have saved his life. Ted is also most likely hoping it could have saved Ted from the overwhelming range of emotions that have brought him to this point. While Ted is still focused on what he could have done in the past, he is receiving what he has needed most since that moment – someone to talk to. Someone who is willing to listen and ask the questions that simply help him process those overwhelming emotions. The team psych doesn’t try to rationalize or problem solve with Ted. She listens.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the challenges I am constantly thinking about this year. Honestly, they aren’t even my challenges. They are challenges that students and faculty members bring to school with them. How often do they get the chance to share with a caring person who will just listen to them.
We have been in school for just over five weeks this year, and the pattern in the most challenging situations is becoming quite clear: a student or faculty member who doesn’t feel listened to or understood. There are always little problems to solve, and most of us prefer them, because the solutions are straightforward – fixing the broken (fill in the blank), finding the missing (fill in the blank), turning off the water valve on the overflowing toilet on the day the custodian is off.
The problems that are most explosive, complicated, and surprising are a result of some growing frustration that has either not been shared or not been heard. It might be a student who is struggling to deal with jokes in the classroom, some at his expense, others that his classmates laugh off. For him, it’s not really the teasing, but the fact that the other student didn’t listen when he asked them to stop. It might be a faculty member who has hinted at a need for specific support, and when it goes unsupported, they find many of their colleagues at fault.
It could be a teacher who is working really hard to support a student, and a student that has been working equally hard to make good choices every day. When a bad choice is made, and the inevitable conflict arises, both are exhausted because of all their hard work and don’t have the mental energy to truly hear each other.
On an individual scale, these challenges can be seen as small or insignificant within a school building. However, whether it is a group of 18 students or 40 faculty members, the impact of these emotional challenges adds up quickly and can reach the state of overwhelm. I applaud my colleagues who have been keeping it together. And I fully respect my colleagues in those moments that they haven’t.
I try really hard to just listen and validate, because mostly that is what we need. I wish I had more time to provide that listening ear to my colleagues and our students. I am also working hard to stop my natural inclination to critique or problem-solve. The real solution, however, feels like it must be somewhere in our ability to trust more of our friends to listen carefully. We can’t rely on one teacher, or one administrator to be the team psychologist. We need each other to do this work. Yes, this requires time and practice, which I clearly haven’t figured out yet.
For now, I am at step one of my Ted Lasso realization, which feels stupid, simple, and complicated. Maybe if I can figure out the crazy, beautiful part of it, I might really have something.